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Ann Naffziger, M.A., M.Div.
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Our readers asked:

Why is Paul always in prison?

Ann Naffziger Answers:

Question: Why is Paul always in prison? Did people write letters responding to the ones he sent to them from prison?

The New Testament tells us that Paul spent some time in prison, although we can’t be certain of how many times Paul was imprisoned, where, or for how long each sentence lasted. According to The Acts of the Apostles, Paul remained under house arrest in Rome for two entire years. Possibly Paul wrote his letters to the Philippians and Philemon during this tenure, but it is impossible to know.

Acts tells us he was accused by the people of Philippi of “disturbing our city … and advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe” (Acts 16:20-21). Later, Jewish leaders sent him for trial as “a pestilent fellow, an agitator among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes” (Acts 24:5).

There is evidence that the communities he wrote to were in written communication with him as well, so the dialogue wasn’t just one-sided. For example, 1 Corinthians 7:1 states “Now concerning matters about which you wrote…” suggesting that Paul’s first letter to them is at least partly in response to a letter they had first sent to Paul. At other times, a friend or co-worker of Paul brought reports to Paul from the communities to whom he had written (2 Corinthains 7:13-16). Biblical scholars also suggest that it is almost certain that other letters were exchanged between Paul and the churches he founded, which have now been lost to us.

The Author : Ann Naffziger
Ann Naffziger is a scripture instructor and spiritual director in the San Francisco Bay area. She has has written articles on spirituality and theology for various national magazines and edited several books on the Hebrew Scriptures.
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